An award of The USA Hockey Foundation, the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award is presented annually to the top player in NCAA Division I women’s ice hockey.
Just because Wisconsin Badgers forward Annie Pankowski has been in this position before doesn't mean she’s taking anything for granted.
Last season, Pankowski was considered among the best in the nation and named a top-10 finalist for the 2016 Patty Kazmaier Award, presented annually to the top player in women’s NCAA Division I hockey.
At this point of the year, she's honored to be enjoying another successful season as a junior.
“Being mentioned in that conversation is exciting and not something that you expect for yourself,” Pankowski said. “To exceed expectations and to be discussed in that group is exciting and really humbling.”
Pankowski, a zoology major, was in a lab surgery course when the top-10 finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award were released in 2016.
“I was trying not to be on my phone and everyone started texting me and my Twitter notifications started going off,” Pankowski said. “I wasn’t sure if something was wrong or there was an emergency, but I saw one of the Twitter notifications and realized what was happening.
“I couldn’t let myself look at my phone until after I was done because I knew it would be so overwhelming. You really understand the weight of what the award holds.”
Pankowski holds herself to lofty standards on the ice, but she admits that a nationally recognized distinction like the Patty Kazmaier Award was an exciting and unexpected honor.
“It's not something you actively pursue but it's nice when your play puts you in that realm,” said Pankowski, who was named national rookie of the year in 2015 as a freshman. “Certainly it’s a goal and a great honor, but I realize that whoever wins is going to be truly deserving. It’s always exciting to see the names on the list because these people have pushed the limits of the sport. If it happens, it will be amazing, but if it doesn’t then congratulations to whoever wins.”
Pankowski certainly has the credentials. She has 14 goals and 30 points during Wisconsin’s current 14-game winning streak, and ranks sixth in the country with an average of 1.56 points per game.
Pankowski ranks in the top 10 nationally in scoring with 20 goals and 42 points, but she has been on a tear during the second half of the season. Pankowski didn’t score in her first eight games, but she has 20 goals in her last 18 contests. No other player has more goals or points during that span.
“Hockey is kind of a funny game because I couldn’t put the puck in the net and had a little dry spell,” Pankowski said. “Some games, you go to the net and the puck bounces off you and goes in. It just feels good to have the bounces going my way now.”
Pankowski has produced from the start at Wisconsin with a team-high 21 goals and 43 points as a freshman. She also led Wisconsin during her sophomore season with 22 goals and 58 points.
“It’s definitely exciting to come in on a team as good as Wisconsin and make a difference,” Pankowski said. “Along the way, I never felt like I was leading the team in that aspect. I think I’ve taken a little more responsibility and now I just feel like with that responsibility, I’ve been put in more situations to succeed.”
Among those situations has been within the USA Hockey program.
Pankowski delayed her freshman year at Wisconsin to tour as a member of the 2013 U.S. National Women’s Team. She appeared in three games during the “Bring on the World” tour prior to the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
Pankowski, who captained the U.S. Under-22 Select Team in 2016, played in two IIHF Women’s World Championships and appeared in the Four Nations Cup three times.
“I think playing for USA Hockey adds another layer to the player and the character you can offer to your team,” Pankowski said. “Having the opportunity to play and wear the USA Hockey jersey makes me pick up the intensity when I’m at Wisconsin, knowing there’s always another team to make and another head to turn is what keeps me moving forward.
“Just watching players and the caliber of play on the national team rubs off and it’s something you carry with you. It pushes me to be a better teammate and a better player.”
It also could push Pankowski to be a future Patty Kazmaier Award winner.
“It’s exciting and something you dream about once you make it to this level,” Pankowski said. “To be considered among the best is truly humbling. People in this category already set the precedent higher and higher, and to even be in consideration is an honor.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photo Credit: David Stluka